To Earn Your Social Media Clout, You Need To Empower Your Consumers.

Cynical and divisive as this day can feel, we’re living in perhaps the most charitable age of our existence. Beyond the millions that are donated and the countless hours that are volunteered, there’s an everyday variety of compassion that’s emerging through social media. It was easy to dismiss at first because of its casualness—a retweet here, a “like” there, a shared link—but as the views and the acknowledgements soared, it became clear that what we were witnessing was the latest update on an old (and once believed to be outdated) practice: paying it forward.

Return an act of kindness by performing one for someone else. That the concept could be employed as a marketing device would seem to signal new lows in capitalist greed. But, in actuality, the move gives the consumer the greater leverage.

In the traditional model, we were force-fed our messages. A marketing campaign from just a decade ago would feel closer to propaganda today. Social media sparked the revolution. Consumers now have a choice, not just with who/what they want to engage with, but also in how they engage (a short YouTube video, a 300-word blog post or a long-form essay). Positioning consumers to pay it forward—retweet, like, share—empowers them. And such a pact between the provider and the consumer, as opposed to a fleeting, impersonal transaction, fosters, in time, trust and a sense of community.

“Provide your audiences with great insight, leadership, value and solutions to their problems and they will come to you,” Todd Wilms wrote in a column for Forbes.

Easier said than done, right? The key, he said, is not entirely forgoing conventional approaches. Start incorporating your social media marketing slowly—and tactfully. You shouldn’t expect an immediate return, and even once you do start to see one, it’s going to be difficult to quantify. But that doesn’t mean you should stick with things that clearly aren’t working. You’re thinking long-range here, but not at the sacrifice of your brand in the meantime.